Educaton board postpones weighted grades decision
Following a heavily attended public discussion last spring, workshops, consultations, reviews and further research, the Board of Education still has not decided if the district will switch to a weighted grading system.
At the board’s March 10 meeting, four members were opposed and two were in favor of a weighted system, and at the suggestion of Chris Stroup, the board voted to postpone its decision to its next meeting on March 31.
The board’s Communication, Alignment and Policy Committee — comprised of Superintendent Kevin Smith, Board of Education Chair Bruce Likely and board member Christine Finkelstein — started exploring the idea of weighting grades last year and learned that it’s “not a simple yes-no, weighted or not question,” Smith said during last spring’s public discussion. “It’s multi-dimensional.”
Last spring, experts from the Wilton community — including independent educational consultant and Wilton resident Matt Greene, Wilton High School College Career Resource Center counselor Christine Collins, and then-high school social worker Kim Zemo, who is now the district's safe school climate coordinator — shared their thoughts and concerns about weighted grades.
“Grade weighting is giving additional grade points in some manner for honors, Advanced Placement or some other courses,” Greene said.
“It is not a fast-and-hard formula — sometimes it means adding a point or half-point for an honors or advanced class; other times it means multiplying a grade by a particular factor.”
Collins said the “the rigor of the transcript, the courses and the grades in those courses” are the most important factors in the college application process, while Zemo cited an increase in "significant mental health concerns among students" over the years.
“Along with that increase, what has been strikingly different in the last several years is that it’s impacting our high achievers,” said Zemo. “They’re having more and more difficulty managing and coping with the demands being put on them.”
Zemo noted that 60% of Wilton High School students have reported being stressed “all or most of the time,” and said she was concerned about weighted grades’ impact on “the mental health and the culture and climate within the school.”
Following the discussion, the Communications, Alignment and Policies Committee held a workshop with teachers and guidance counselors, where thoughts on weighted grades were exchanged.
The committee also assembled a working group comprised of committee members and high school administration and faculty to “look at policies and practices in place in other successful districts,” Finkelstein told the board last June.
Those findings, she said, would be used for the basis of the Communications, Alignment and Policies Committee’s recommendation to the education board. However, the March 10 recommendation was not a unanimous one, as Smith expressed opposition to weighting grades and Finkelstein and Likly were in favor.
By not having a weighted grading system, Finkelstein said on her and Likly’s behalf, the district fails to give deserved extra credit to students who challenge themselves academically.
While “there is no right or wrong answer,” said Finkelstein, the estimated 70% of school districts across the country that weight grades do so to place their students in positive and advantageous light.
“If we don’t change our policy,” she said, “our students will continue to present transcripts with lower GPAs than their peers.”
Smith recommended to not weight grades based on the belief that transitioning to a weighted grading system would be “inconsistent” with the district’s vision and goals.
After spending time reviewing research, weighted grade systems, policies and input from college admission officers, as well as weighing feedback from school employees, Smith said, he believes the district’s current grading policy is “a good one” and that “weighting grades, and grading in general, is for the 19th and 20th Century — not the 21st Century.”
According to college admissions officers, Smith said, Wilton students are not disadvantaged by having an un-weighted grading system.
After reiterating the pros and cons of weighted and unweighted grading systems Greene mentioned last spring, Smith concluded that the district’s current policy is “a good one” and said there are more critical concerns that need to be given attention, including consistency of grading practices, the grading scale, and college admissions process support.
Board of Education member Lory Rothstein said she was “strongly in favor” of a weighted system a year ago, but that is no longer the case.
Rothstein said she, too, believes that a weighted system would be inconsistent with the district’s vision, goals, and teaching and learning objectives, and “absolutely agrees” with Smith that the inconsistency of grading practices is something the school administrations should “take a closer look” at.
Fellow board members Glenn Hemmerle and Laura Schwemm said they were also opposed to a weighted grading system.
Schwemm said Wilton is a district that “honors every course and every student,” and that she has spoken to parents, students and school faculty members who are “proud of this.”
Stroup said he would like to not vote on the matter during the March 10 meeting and requested time to compare and contrast the views of his fellow board members so he could “articulate the reasons” for his vote at the board’s next meeting.
This motion for postponement was approved by the board, which next meets Thursday, March 31, at 7 p.m., in the Wilton High School Professional Library.